Survivor Diaries: Stuck in Neverland
“So get closer to my body now /
Just love me ’til you don’t know how…”
There is absolutely nothing like a Michael Jackson groove, a Michael Jackson beat, and a Michael Jackson move. It drops, it seduces, it builds, it’s somehow always a complete and total masterpiece. Artists for decades have tried to emulate it - maybe the closest anyone has gotten to it as of late is Bruno Mars? (I write with a big question mark) - but it’s just never quite enough. The music is incomparable, because it's missing something.
Lovingly known as: MJ. The “King of Pop.”
On the dance floor, in my car stuck in LA traffic, I become possessed. I release all control to his high pitched squeals and velvet croons. The world suddenly vibrates and comes alive, it brings out the child in me. How could I ever deny it? MJ’s talent was a constant growing up, a delight, a celebration of life. I remember laughing learning a jazz combination to “The Way You Make Me Feel” in dance class in high school. I remember trying to moon walk on the hardwood floors of my home (and not being the even the least bit successful at it). But there are other things I remember, things that I could never forget. That have made such a profound mark on me, none of this could compare.
“He was one of the kindest, most gentle, loving, caring people I knew. He helped me...tremendously.
He helped me with my career. He helped me with my creativity. With all those sorts of things. “
- Wade Robson, Leaving Neverland
Since Leaving Neverland came out on HBO over a month ago, I have found myself caught in the crossfires of debates regarding Michael Jackson and his “relationships” with young children. I listen to all kinds of people I love and respect (and some total strangers at Whole Foods and Walgreens) spitting their opinions at each other about whether to watch the documentary, whether they can bear to see him as a molester, whether they want to spend their time hearing stories about him as a predator - all would “tarnish their view of him and his artistry.” I don’t always leave the vicinity when I hear these things, because I’m so curious. I notice something amongst every conversation:
They all seem to have a choice on the matter. I wish I felt like I do.
Instead, I have a visceral burning of conviction in my gut, a desire to scream, or to run away. Because similarly to Wade Robson, I also remember a man I trusted sexually abusing me. Only for me, it lasted months, and I was four years old.
I have not seen the whole documentary. I only caught fifteen minutes as I was cooking in the next room. All I needed to hear was a sliver of their testimony, and I saw it behind their eyes. I know them. The years of abuse exploded through their cracked voices, their words filled with such confused resolve. I am an extension of them. It is within me. These are my soul sibs, and I see them, their pain. The luring in. The promises of love and comfort. Of protection. The death threats to not tell anyone. The urge to live in a lie. And mostly, the complete and utter terror mixed with the sweeping enlightenment of pleasure and ecstasy.
“Touch me and I feel on fire /
Ain’t nothin’ like a love desire…”
Ugh. I turn up the volume. I cringe. Those lyrics start to take on a new meaning. How do we separate the art from the artist? Can we, even? This has been on my mind ever since the allegations against Woody Allen came out. Woof, that one hurt. Then there was Louis CK. Eh, not as much. But once this documentary came out, suddenly my cyber feeds are flooded with all these articles about people discrediting the documentary and stating that they are “TEAM MJ!" Calling Wade and Jimmy “LIARS!” Defending Michael as such a brilliant artist, “we must see past his mistakes.” As a girl who was far too caught up in her final year home before leaving for college to have been aware of what was going on during The Trial of Michael Jackson, the release of Leaving Neverland has completely occupied my mind, more than any of the other allegations combined. And it has also occupied the mouths of many people who I can only assume have not experienced this themselves. But this might be an unfair assumption.
So, I have to pose the question:
Is an artist a person, or a product?
When an artist creates something, is it still an extension of them, or has it been reduced to an object that the world now possesses? Is there any difference from who I am as Lisa, versus who I am as an actor, versus who I am as a singer, versus who I am as a writer? The words I speak or sing come out of my lips, thoughts, my understanding of the world. Doesn’t what inspires us as artists come out in how we create? In what we create? What happens when what inspires us hurts others? Is that art still art? Should it be accepted by a moral society? Who decides what a moral society is?
THIS IS WHAT KEEPS ME UP AT NIGHT.
But amidst all the cloudy question marks, these next words from Wade Robson are the ones that really haunt me. These words are the ones that completely haze out the potentially compassionate thoughts.
“And he also sexually abused me...
for seven years.”
That’s the amount of time it takes for someone to become a lawyer or a doctor.
If the artist is not well, if the artist has a skewed perception about what is respectful, what is good, what is love - then what story is being told?
The “King of Pop” was a powerful man. His talent created another language, his celebrity intoxicating. With his fans’ money, he built a fairyland, promised joy, love, and candy. And he took advantage of his power, during the most formidable years of childhoods, took advantage of many children’s innocence for his own pleasure, and taught them that laugh and play is to be mated with manipulation. This is the most confusing thing to learn at young age. I spent my young adult years vacillating between complete denial, shame, and secrecy surrounding the truth. Wade and Jimmy both testified during the 2005 trial that Michael did not touch them inappropriately during their time at Neverland - I see they also weren’t ready to come to terms with the horror.
And as it seems, neither was the jury.
As found on Wikipedia:
“The jury deliberated for about 32 hours over seven days. On the initial vote, nine jurors voted to acquit Jackson, while three voted that he was guilty. On June 14, 2005, they returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges. Years later, one juror said his ‘gut feeling’ was that Jackson had molested children, but supported the not-guilty decision as he felt that the prosecution had not proved this beyond reasonable doubt. [District Attorney] Sneddon said the jury had been blinded by the ‘celebrity factor.’”
So many unwilling to believe. So many claiming Wade and Jimmy are lying as they have spent their whole lives trying to figure out what happened and what their truth is. This violent push back against Leaving Neverland has been baffling to me. And hearing people excuse Michael Jackson’s acts or question Wade and Jimmy’s testimony is even more baffling to me.
For decades, Michael Jackson has been idolized, worshipped, adored.
Can we at least for a moment give Wade, Jimmy, and survivors everywhere some of that precious space to be believed and valued?
Earlier, I mentioned that I wish I felt that I had the choice. The choice to see Michael in whatever light I would like to. Part of my struggle as a survivor is simply just…learning how to choose. To not just feel that burning conviction in my gut and not scream and not run away. To stay. To listen in the uncomfortable, and learn how to ask where my boundaries are. Where are my limits? What do I stand for? So, even though I may feel like I don’t have a choice when those conversations are happening, I know I do. And now, I sit here, voluntarily pushing the play button on each of my favorite songs of his for the last time.
“Keep on, with the force don’t stop.
Don’t stop ’til you get enough.”
God, his voice. It’s orgasmic. It has given me life for thirty one years. But that voice coming through the speakers was the same voice he seduced those children with. And just like anything else I am seduced by - be it tequila, MDMA, or Lana Del Rey’s Spotify station - I have to draw a boundary and know when to stop. And that time is now. I can settle for watered down Bruno from now on. I’ll make it work. I just have to figure out how - and fuck if I know. Thank goodness for my therapist.
And with that, I leave you with the last part of this quote from Wade. Above all else, the most powerful. What I think can be considered the anthem for survivors of sexual child abuse everywhere, as we have spent our entire lives picking up the pieces of our stolen innocence, saying whatever we can to get by along the way, and finally learning how to reveal what our truth looks like that has always lived underneath…
“I want to be able to speak the truth,
as loud as I had to speak the lie for so long.”
I ask you, loudly: Where do we draw the line? What are our limits? Who do we choose to be our Kings? I welcome you to sit in these questions with me. But I feel there needs to come a point where we answer them for ourselves. Where we know how to stop, and set our boundaries with what we support and what we allow to have power over us. Do I value what I get out of Michael Jackson, or do I honor the voices of those he hurt so profoundly?
I say “Stop.” I’ve had “Enough.” I choose the latter.
I stand behind Wade, Jimmy, and the rest who can't bring themselves to share. What Michael Jackson has done to the least of these, he has also done to me.
So thank you.
To Wade, Jimmy, Dan Reed, and the rest of the creators of Leaving Neverland. Your courage and tenacity to create space for this story is so important. I am so grateful. Click here to watch the trailer.
To you, for taking the time to read this, for being willing to listen, and allowing me to share just a fraction of my story.
And to Michael. For the music. I am so, so sorry you were so troubled.
Quotations are from the documentary mentioned in this post, Leaving Neverland.